I should be careful what I wish for: I’ve complained that SVH does not even touch on issues of race in its WASPY world, and then we get one that touches on it directly and…I wish they just hadn’t even tried.
Some quick backstory: Cheryl Thomas’s Dad and Annie’s Whitman’s mom are getting married, and they just bought the house next to the Wakefields (also, their parents are living together BEFORE THEY ARE MARRIED!!! Oh my. And least someone’s having premarital sex in SV.) Cheryl and her dad moved from New York City. Oh, and also, she’s black. Because you may not infer this from the plot. She has recently become friends with Steven, who still insists on hanging out with high school kids.
Everyone acts overly friendly with Cheryl, I guess to assuage their guilt about their white privilege. And to prove that they are okay with black people. Also to say that some of their best friends are black, I guess. Steven is teaching Cheryl to drive, and one afternoon after a lesson they stop at a cafe and everyone is staring at them and some skinhead guys are giving them dirty looks. It’s pretty awful. They are both so upset that after they leave they take comfort in each other and make out. It was actually pretty horrifying, and it proves to me that SV is about as liberal as 1954 Alabama.
The next morning, both are kind of regretting making out, they are not sure if they really like each other or were in an emotional state. Meanwhile, rumors are all over everywhere that Steven and Cheryl are a couple. Like all the kids at SVH really give a shit about Steven, who doesn’t even go there. Wait, he’s a Wakefield, so every bowel movement is big news. Both Cheryl and Steven both know they are really not into each other, but keep going out to prove a point, and I think Steven feels guilty that he is thinking about Cheryl’s race and wants to convince himself it doesn’t matter to him. It makes him sound shitty, but for real it is actually nice to see an SVH character have an internal dialogue that is actually intriguing and realistic.
So, for the next 70 pages or so, Cheryl and Steven hang out and each want to tell each other they aren’t that into each other but are too afraid to do so or are conveniently interrupted. It goes on forever and it is ridiculous.
Steven doesn’t want to be alone with Cheryl so invites her out to the Beach Disco with his college friends (wait, he has college friends?) and she hits it off with some guy Martin Bell, who is also black. Cheryl plays it off like, I just happen to like him and he also happens to be black. Again, to me, this is totally skirting the issue. I really would have appreciated it more if Cheryl was thinking, “wow, I am a person of color in this incredibly white, ignorant and privileged place, and it is really nice to be with someone who can really understand where I am coming from.” But noooo, it has to totally ignore the issues that she is going through.
So Cheryl and Steven stay together to fight for the cause of interracial couples, as if they were the first ones in Sweet Valley. Hold up- are they really the first? What about Jade Wu and that David guy? Don’t Sandra and Manuel have a West Side Story thing going? So they are really viewing race as a black and white thing here. Argh.
Of course, our friendly residents are not as supportive as the perfect, liberal, and accepting Wakefields. Lila is kind of shitty about the whole thing, More that she is cynical about the whole thing and doesn’t think anyone will ever accept them, so why try? Oh Li, you are making it hard for me to like you. Bruce, surprise, is even worse. He runs into the twins at the mall getting supplies for the cake they are baking for the wedding and is all, “these black and white liaisons are quite the thing these days” and Cheryl and Steven are “making spectacles of themselves” and finally, “make sure the cake is half-chocolate”. Real cute, Bruce.
Finally, Cheryl talks to Mrs. Whitman and tells her she’s proud that she is marrying her father to fight a cause. Mrs. Whitman is all, wtf, that is not why I am getting married. Cheryl finally gets the balls to break up with Steven. And how does she do it? By the toast she gives her parents. She directs it at Steven. Because it’s always about a Wakefield, and no one else. Finally it ends with Cheryl setting up a date with Martin. Who, by the way, likes jazz music. Stereotype much?
I do like Cheryl, because she calls Jessica out on her shit. Jessica is being overly friendly to her, and Cheryl tells Steven it’s because Jessica is trying to prove that she is “okay” with them and not because she is sincere. See, I told you Cheryl was likeable!
Oh yea, secondary storyline: the twins bake the cake for the wedding after some mishaps. Jessica’s samples taste like ass and they make fun of her a lot. Last time someone made fun of Jessica’s cooking, she threw a shit fit and almost ran away to San Fran. Also, Sam, Tod, Liz and Jess hang around together a lot. I thought Todd hated Jess…and I couldn’t help thinking that Sam, you’re days are numbered (the next book is the infamous Jungle Prom.)
Som brief mentions of ugly outfits for the wedding: “Elizabeth had borrowed an outfit from Enid [bleccchhhh]- a pale yellow silk dress, and in her hair she wore a lace bow [she is dressed as me for my second grade school pictures]. Jessica, however, had splurged on a peacok-blue minidress with big black buttons all down the front.” Yarf.
Ugh, that just ended too easily! Suddenly Cheryl’s life is perfect, everyone accepts, blah blah blah. Also, this is infuriating: Cheryl decides how lucky she is to live in Sweet Valley because it is just so beautiful. Yes, I am SURE Cheryl wouldn’t rather have stayed in New York City, where there are actually more interesting people and she is not the only person of color and everyone is always gossiping about her business.
Well, it is good to see Annie’s mom settle down. Back in #10, we were given the impression she was a bit of a drunk and a tramp. Apparently she met Cheryl’s dad on assignment when she was doing a modeling shoot. The models per capita in Sweet Valley is pretty high, doncha think?
Argh! So frustrating! On the one hand, some ghostwriter tries to address issues of race, but then just when they touch on something that could be somewhat deep, it barely discusses the issues realistically. And everything ends well at the end of the book!!! It’s almost like it would have been better not to happen!!!
And how can I leave without making a comment on the cover? Cheryl looks 38. Steven ACTUALLY looks like a sixteen year old boy, although he is actually older. He looks dorkier than he did in earlier books. The whole Sears Portrait covers really bug me. Who are they posing for?